Sunday, February 28, 2010

Creamy Mushrooms with Polenta Croutons

France being so close to Italy, we share a culinary heritage. Among the many things we eat on both sides of the border, is Polenta. Polenta, a dish made from boiled cornmeal, did not enjoy a great reputation in France until recently as it was for a long time a peasant dish. My husband's maternal grand-mother spent a lot of time in the Alps (ie, close to Italy) where a lot of Italians emigrated to escape poverty. They brought Polenta with them and as a result, my husband's grand-mother made Polenta a lot. She calls it la polente... and if you ask my husband about la polente, he does not make a happy face (to say the least). For his grand-mother would make a soupe a la polente : she would mix milk and Polenta together and serve it as a liquid soup (yes, I know, I would not make a happy face either!!). In my family, my mother would occasionally make Polenta as we know it today : thick and creamy and we would eat it with ratatouille. This was not my favorite dish but not something I could not eat either.
I had my best culinary experience with Polenta while living in San Francisco. My best friend M. took me out for dinner one evening to celebrate her birthday. I chose Polenta with creamy mushrooms... and it was eye-opening jaw dropping good! To this day, I still think about this dish everytime I have polenta for I have not been able to reproduce it myself (but that's why I am no professional chef!).

I cook Polenta a lot at home and always have it handy. When I am lazy in a hurry, I use the log-ready Polenta that I can find in supermarkets around me. I just slice the log and saute the slices in olive oil (with or without Parmesan). We call them croquettes de Polenta; I serve them along ratatouille or other mixed vegetables. My children love it and always ask for more! When I have more time, I make my own Polenta from scratch and since I am still not fond of creamy Polenta, I make it in the form of croûtons. That, my friends, is a discovery worth replicating (I am actually making some for tonight!). It's easy to make, it's delicious and so versatile in its usages: on top of a soup,  mixed in a salad, as a side dish or, like in this recipe, mixed with vegetables. And really, if the croûtons are perfectly done, you don't really care about what's on their side, below or above them, you just want to have them. Only because they are hot coming out of the oven do I manage to keep my children (and me!) from eating them all before serving. In a way, it's a great personal satisfaction to see my husband eat Polenta again avec le sourire!Bon Appétit!
For the Polenta Croûtons
- 3 cups (750 ml) water
- 1 1/2 cups (340gr) yellow corn meal
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan
- Cayenne Pepper (optional)
- 1 ts salt
- 2 ts (10 ml) Olive Oil + 1 Tbs (15ml) for baking
- Thyme sprigs loose + a few for baking (optional)

  • Cover a rectangular baking pan with parchment paper.
  • Bring the water to a boil. Lower the heat to low and dump the yellow corn meal. Stir well.
  • Let cook over low heat for about 12-15 minutes, stirring regularly so that the polenta does not scorch on the bottom.
  • Add Parmesan and stir until Parmesan is melted in the Polenta
  • Remove from heat and add Cayenne pepper, salt, olive oil, and thyme.
  • Spread the Polenta evenly on the parchment paper. Thickness should be about 1/4 inch (1/2 cm). Let cool completely, putting the tray in the fridge if you are not going to bake the croûtons immediately.
  • About 20 minutes before cooking the croûtons, pre-heat oven to 400F (200 C).
  • Cut Polenta into croûtons (cut along horizontal and vertical lines)
  • Put olive oil on a cooking pan. Spread the croûtons and toss them in olive oil. Add a few extra sprigs of thyme for extra flavor.
  • Cook in the oven for about 10 minutes, stir and cook for another 10 minutes (or until golden brown).

For the Mushrooms:
- 1 small onion thinly sliced
- 1 pound of mushrooms, sliced
- Olive Oil
- Salt, black pepper to taste
- A few sprigs of fresh thyme
- Heavy cream/light cream or Ricotta cheese (about 2 Tbs)

  • Over medium heat, saute the onion in olive oil.
  • Add the mushrooms, thyme, salt and pepper and cook until mushrooms are cooked
  • Add cream to the mushrooms for extra sauce.
  • Serve the mushrooms over the Polenta Croutons.
My Personal Comments:
  • You can use whatever herbs or spice you want to flavor the croûtons. I like Cayenne pepper because it gives them a little extra spicy taste. 
  • You can reheat the croûtons by sauteing them in a non-stick pan for a few minutes but they are best eaten straight out of the oven.


  1. Polenta goes by the names fungi or coo-coo which although it sounds like the French endearment is anything but endearing in my opinion! In my country it is cooked with coconut milk and ockra and seasoned with onions, salt and a local pepper and sometimes pumpkin. For me it depends on who makes it for as simple as it is not everyone makes it well.

  2. Coconut milk to cook Polenta. That's a great idea!